About Erik Dolson

Erik Dolson is a writer living in Oregon

Irish: Pain, and Fear

by Jane Miller

My world exploded on Thursday, but the fuse was ignited on Monday when I was fired from my job. I had more than half expected it, work was a toxic environment at best, but the finality of it was daunting.

Erik was determined to keep my spirits up though, and we set off on a walkabout. Being in Victoria with him, being on the boat with him, just being with him made me irrepressibly happy. I was afraid, though, what this change in employment and finances would bring to our relationship. My voice shook as I nervously asked him if he could still date an unemployed miscreant who couldn’t hold down a job. I had learned long ago that there were perils to asking a question to which one did not know the answer.

Four days later, I fell while stepping from one side of the boat to the other.

Erik remembers the sound, and for that I am sorry. His expression changes when he remembers.

I remember the pain. I lost myself as it enveloped me. I screamed and the pain was excruciating. “ERIK!” I begged him to make the pain go away, even as I knew he couldn’t. I begged God to make it stop. But it didn’t. I lost words and could only say “Oh” as I rocked back and forth, trying to comfort myself.

Erik described the logistics and the sequence of events. How the paramedics found the boat because of the flashing Christmas lights. What he did not know, though, was that when the paramedics went to work on me, asking questions, completing their triage, I heard one of them catch his breath and say, “Is that her cheekbone?”

One of them gently palpitated the back of my neck, and when I said that it hurt (such varying degrees and kinds of pain I was experiencing) I remembered my neck surgery – a discectomy and fusion at C4-5 and C5-6. The paramedics insisted on putting me in a cervical collar. It was made for someone larger than me, and threatened to choke me, but I was too close to unconsciousness to care.

I don’t remember how I left the boat. As I piece together the events, I realize I must have walked off with the help of the paramedics. There I was, with what ended up being a crushed nose, shattered cheek, my right orbit broken in pieces too numerous to count, a ruptured eye, and a depressive skull fracture … walking off the boat.

As I was put on the gurney, my only thought, though, was knowing where Erik was. As long as he was with me, as long as I could hear his voice, I knew I would live. Being essentially blind, I needed to hear his strength through the sound of his voice and the touch of his warm fingers. If I lost that, I was afraid that I would crawl inside myself and never be able to come out.

The pain had the power to drive me to ground, and Erik was the only anchor in a too-dark world.

I was triaged at one hospital, then transferred with lights and sirens to the Royal Jubilee hospital, which had an ophthalmological surgery unit. A new voice entered my world as Dr. Taylor explained the extent of damage and the low probability of either saving my eye or my sight. I finally had enough pain meds in my system so I could breathe, and I knew Erik was with me, but I clung to his voice as they wheeled me to the OR.

Call my family,” I asked Erik. “But after surgery.”

Surgery on my eye lasted three-and-a-half hours. It had basically exploded and was torn more than half way around. I’d lost the iris, and there was so much blood an ultrasound couldn’t locate any retina left. I spent the next three days in recovery. The surgeons didn’t try to repair my crushed face, leaving that for later.

Erik made appointments for me with the best doctors back in Oregon as soon as I could travel. He organized air travel so there would be wheelchairs waiting every step of the way. He rarely left my side, sleeping on the couch in my hospital room, waking with me every two hours when nurses came in to apply medication. On Sunday, the day before we left, he made me walk around the hospital ward.

Still, I was terrified by the question I had asked about whether he could love me when I had lost my job. Now, how could he love an unemployed miscreant with one blind eye? How would we do this? How could I sail? Erik was the first to point out that I became seasick in rough seas, that I was afraid when the boat heeled over too far. How would I be now? We had started to work on the deficits that came with Parkinson’s, but this …

This was a deficit I didn’t know we could overcome. Erik had had this dream for twenty years – sailing, Fiji, trans-Pacific crossings – but his dream had not included a partner with such failings. But I didn’t ask. I couldn’t ask.

We arrived in Oregon four days after my fall and saw a doctor at the Casey Eye Institute the next day. We set up appointments to have another ultrasound, made plans to repair the bones in my face, and began ultimate plans to try to save my eye. Little did we know it would all be for naught.

Two weeks after the fall we were sitting in the retinologist’s office, going over the ultrasound that had just been taken, being told of the poor prognosis of seeing even light and dark, the medical hazards involved in keeping a blind eye, and the recommendation of surgery to remove the eye completely. It was difficult to breathe.

We needed a break, we needed to eat, talk, hold hands. Decide what to do.

I was now an unemployed miscreant with one prosthetic eye. Good grief. How was this going to fit in with Fiji? This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.

This time, though, we didn’t mention the boat. We didn’t mention sailing. We just talked about what would be best for my health and for us. I told him I loved him, which I do all the time. He told me he loved me, too.

To our many friends

Irish is home with me now in Sisters, recovering from her fall. She received outstanding medical care in Victoria B.C., and we flew back to Oregon the Monday after her Thursday accident. She has been seen by an eye specialist and facial reconstruction surgeon at Oregon Health Sciences University. She’ll have surgery next week, Christmas with her sons and my daughters here in Sisters, and we plan on going out for New Years Eve, one year to the day after we had our “first date.”

Holiday to Remember

We had game hen instead of turkey for Thanksgiving, and celebrated a day late. But we gave thanks. It was a beautiful day in a beautiful city. We were together, living on a boat in Victoria Harbor for the winter, getting the boat ready for a three month voyage to Alaska next summer. It could be a lot worse.

As we’d soon find out.

“Harbor Authority is giving away Christmas lights to the first people who come to the office! And they’re giving a prize for the best decorated boat!”

Her enthusiasm told me Irish was not going to be denied on this one. My effort was weak.

“Oh, babe … Christmas is not my favorite holiday.”

“But it’s one of mine. Oh, c’mon. They’re free.”

We picked up two of strings of free lights, and then rented a car and went to Costco for four long strings of blue lights to string around the hull, and to Home Depot for eight strings of white lights to create the outline of a sail. There were other things we needed, of course, like groceries and a laundry cart and a dehumidifier for living on the water with the hatches closed against winter temperatures.

But I teased about the slippery slope of getting something for free.

So our blue boat was ready for Christmas in the harbor below the Empress Hotel in a city offering centuries of architecture, fun restaurants around every other corner, a new and well-equipped gym nearby, a quality grocery store and laundromat just up the hill, and fine ship’s chandler a healthy walk away.

Three days later, Irish was told by her employer in Minnesota that her “position was being eliminated.” Immediately. Her work phone was wiped remotely.

It wasn’t a huge surprise. The company wasn’t really set up for remote employees. New hires for similar positions had to move to Minnesota. Her boss had been making it more difficult for Irish to telecommute, and expressed “shock” she was in Victoria BC, a “foreign country.” They did not respond when she told them we’d pay any additional expenses for internet or phone.

That silence was my tip-off.  There was something toxic about that company culture. When her boss quit complaining, I knew the end was coming and wondered, to myself, if they’d found out about her Parkinson’s Disease. Irish had let it slip to a coworker a couple of weeks before.

“You were not happy working for them.”

“I know, but still …”

Getting fired leaves a sense of rejection, even if unfounded. Sitting in front of a computer fearfully looking for work, or going over and over and over what she may have done wrong, would not be good for her soul.

“Let’s go for a walk,” I said. We’d do some Christmas shopping for the kids, instead. She had options. We had options.

“Thank you,” Irish told me about mid-day.

“For what?”

“For being here with me, for bringing me here to Victoria, for everything.”

“Thanks not needed, but you’re welcome.” She was teaching me, slowly, to accept appreciation.

For the next four days we settled into a new routine, talking about jobs, insurance, how to respond to an absurdly low severance offer, about lawyers, options, Alaska. She told me to stop restringing the Christmas lights on the boat. We’d been hit by a storm that loosened some of the things I’d kludged together, and I have a bit of obsessive/compulsive urge not to let something alone I think could be a little better.

“But they’re not quite right.”

“They are just fine. We can do it differently next year,” she said.

So I would tweak the lights when she wasn’t looking. I reduced the number of cords needed by connecting the strings together, changed the layout of the white lights a bit, to mimic waves off the bow.

It was a week to the day after Thanksgiving, and we’d finished dinner. I went up on deck to secure a lazy jack line that had been banging the mast when the wind came up, making it difficult to sleep. Irish said she’d do the dishes.

True to form, I was monkeying with the Christmas lights when I heard a sound, like someone hit a pumpkin with a stick. Irish screamed.

“OH MY GOD! ERIK! OH MY GOD!

“Did you drop something on your foot?” I called back.

“OH MY GOD!!! ERIK!! ERIK!!! OH OH OH!

I dropped the flashlight and hand-full of shock cords and ran to the cockpit. Irish was crumpled in the small space between a cockpit bench and the helm wheel. She was screaming, holding her face.

“OH GOD. IT HURTS! IT HURTS! I CAN’T SEE!”

It was cold and blowing. I lifted her up and into the shelter that surrounded the cockpit. Her screams had become moans, but incoherent, “oh oh oh god oh oh Erik oh god oh god oh oh …”

Blood was streaming from between fingers of the hand she pressed to the right side of her face. I leaped down into the galley and got a clean smooth cloth towel, not terry cloth, and went back up.

“Press this against your face,” I said.

When she pulled her hand away, there was a pool of blood where her eye should have been. Gashes on her cheek formed creeks of blood down the side of her face.

“Stay right here. Don’t move.”

“OH ERIK! OH OH OH! I can’t see, IT HURTS! MAKE IT STOP!”

I grabbed my cell phone and called 911, tried to be calm as I told them we had an emergency, serious emergency, where we were. The dispatcher was very good, very calm, said help was already on its way, asked me about the injury, where it happened, how it happened. I gave them the code to the gate that led to our berth in the harbor.

I had Irish in my arms, she moaned incoherently, except for begging me to “make the pain stop.” Then my phone rang.

“Sir, the paramedics can’t find you. Where are you exactly?”

“Have them look at the boats in the harbor below the Empress Hotel!”

I jumped into the cabin below and began pulling and pushing the plug for the Christmas lights in and out of the socket. Our mast stretched 64 feet above the water. The white lights ran to the top. The bottom of the lit triangle of “sail” was close to 50 feet from bow toward the stern.

“They’ve got you,” the dispatcher said after a few seconds.

I stayed below and put all her medications in a bag, an extra set of clothes, anything else I could think of, turned off the diesel cabin heater and the fresh water supply. When she cried out I went back up and took her in my arms.

“They are almost here, sweetheart, they are on the dock. I can see them.”

“Oh God oh, oh oh, it hurts, I can’t see, it hurts, oh oh oh … “

Three paramedics worked their way down the ramp with a gurney and were soon on board. One sat with me and asked what happened while the other two determined the best course of action. One asked the other, “Is that her cheek bone?” before they put her in a neck support collar and applied bandages to slow the bleeding.

When they were ready, I followed the gurney as they wheeled Irish up the ramp. They transported us, with lights and siren, to the hospital that serves Victoria as a trauma center.

America, America. America!

Why is no one drawing the straight line from right-wing talk shows to Donald J. Trump, Republican candidate for President of the United States? Limbaugh, O’Reilly, Coulter, Hannity, Palin, Beck… Donald Trump would still be a third-rate real estate developer without the influence of these men and women on the culture of our country over the last 30 years.

Of course there are other factors. “Collateral damage” of our middle class, caused by both globalization and automation, is a major contributor. We should have provided opportunity for their children, though the rise of TV and video games, then cell phones, is a giant cultural / psychological / biological experiment that may have made this too difficult.

Collective cowardice is another, in that no one was willing to stand up and say the 1950s throughout about the year 2000 was a unique period of prosperity for the United States, that we failed to invest in the future. The wealth of this period also came with challenges that were poorly met, similar to the effects on the children of very successful people.

But Biology is also at work here. Fear is a greater motivator than hope, and those who manipulate fear have a greater chance of gaining influence.

The rise of the internet, where half-baked or completely false information is gobbled by a public that chooses not to know the difference between ranting and discussion, feelings and analysis, simple opinion and complex evaluation, also contributes.

But the panderers listed above use all this to build ratings, and their own wealth. They sell senseless outrage, the fear of loss, and aim snide disrespect at those of another political persuasion. They are cynically divisive, and may have ruined underpinnings of our democracy by demeaning the rule of law, attempting to delegitimizing our president and the election process

This election is not about the Supreme Court. It’s not about Benghazi. It’s not about the emails. It’s not even about the horror of electing a man as vile as any in the public arena to the most important post in America. It’s about what has happened to America, the America of Reagan, if you will, or of the Kennedy’s if you prefer.

Talk show hosts will own any unpleasant aftermath when their candidate, Donald J. Trump, loses the election because he is utterly and completely unqualified to be considered a decent man, let alone president of the United States.

He is, however, a perfect distillation of all that talk show hosts say and all that they stand for. He is their man, their candidate, their caricature.

Yes, the hosts above have freedom of speech. They have freedom of the press. But they are screaming “FIRE!” in a crowded theater. They need to own the consequences. The rest of us know what they have done, and should hold them accountable.

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!
America! America!
God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea!

The track wins one

Chalk one up for Portland International Raceway, PIR, the track in Portland.

Hell, give credit where credit is due. There’s a reason most fans head down to the chicane to watch a race. That’s where the action is, or is likely to be. That was certainly the case at the Columbia River Classic over Labor Day. Turn One is where it came down.

We’re humping along at a buck fifty or so (150 mph) on the main straight past the start finish line, then we come to Turn One, a nearly 90 degree right turn, followed immediately by an even sharper left at Turn Two, then quickly by the more easy right hand Turn Three. The pavement changes from asphalt to concrete to asphalt right in the middle of all this.

Turn One is a place where you can gain an advantage. It’s also where advantage can be lost in the blink of an eye.

For Saturday morning qualifying, the track was sloppy with rain showers on the west end and barely dry on the east. I had new brake pads to bed in, a type I had not run before. The ones I liked had been cracking because the backing plate was too thin. The new ones worked, but pedal feel was different. They bit later, and a little more softly.

Giving up on a better time as the rain worsened, I came in after a Porsche looped it in Turn Seven doing little more than subdivision speed. Fireball, in the gold Holman Moody Mustang, qualified first, Canuck was second. I was back in the pack at ninth or so, behind the Rex Easley Studebaker which let’s you know how I dialed it down.

After clawing my way to third, I had the best seat in the house watching Canuck and Fireball go at each other. My memory of any one race is always a little vague, because I’m not in a remembering frame of mind when I’m driving, but when one was in front, the other worked at him like a dog, going high, going low, waiting until the last second to brake and then trying to hold on.

Fireball especially reminded me of a terrier, attacking left and right, on the edge and a couple of times over it and in the dirt but always keeping control of the Mustang. He’s a great driver, better than me and at least the equal of Canuck. It was quite a show.

Fireball eventually dove beneath Canuck going into Turn Seven, and was able to get away clean. I was inching up as whoever was in the lead drove a little defensively, but I ran out of time to make a move. All three cars seemed about equal in horsepower, or horsepower to weight, or whatever ratio you want to use that defines acceleration. Nobody was going to just run away from the other two.

This weekend would be decided by something else.

The next morning, the three of us took off. This time, I was in a little better position to make my presence known. My turn to play dog. I don’t remember if I passed Canuck at the end of the back straight or Turn Seven, but was ahead of him and had Fireball in my sights.

We were coming down the main straight and I thought I saw a chance. I moved to the right, inside, glanced left as I went by and saw I was ahead.

A glance at that speed can take more time than you have. I was planning to brake late and hard, but the new brake pads bit a little later, and now I was on the edge of traction and on the edge of the track, on rumble strips where friction is low. I started to turn in, wondering if the front tires would hold.

It’s hard to say if I heard or felt the solid contact. Fireball’s passenger door and my driver’s side rear wheel tried to occupy the same space. After contact, I barely made the turn as he went through the chicane and squirted out to a fifty yard lead. Canuck got by me on the way to Turn Three as I struggled to find the right gear.

The race ended just as it started, One Two Three. Officials were at my trailer before I had my helmet off.

“What happened out there?”

“I made the pass, came in a little hot, he probably had already started to turn his wheel, we had contact. Fireball did nothing wrong,” I said. I didn’t think I had either.

Irish had the whole thing on video. It looked like we just came together in a bit of paint swapping, but his passenger door had a good size dent as well as a round doughnut of black from my back tire. A chunk of wheel flare was missing from Yellow Jacket.

I told the Mustang’s owner that his driver did nothing wrong (Fireball, a one time national champion in Spec Miata racing, is the “shoe”). I told Fireball the same thing. From their response, I’m not sure either of them felt the same about me but they were gracious enough, and that’s another conversation.

There were some in each camp who felt pretty strongly that the other driver was at fault. “You were ahead. His door contacted your rear tire, end of story,” said a driver who had been penalized in the past for a similar incident.

“We’re not going there,” I said. “He did nothing wrong.”

We both had options, true enough, but decisions made early don’t always work out as planned. As they say of flying airplanes, hitting the ground is what kills you but the mistake was taking off with too little fuel. Or misreading a weather report. Flying and racing are risky, and sometimes things happen.

That was the final official conclusion. A “racing incident” and no one at fault. They even let Fireball claim the victory after going right on through the Chicane, which was fine by me. It meant we had another equal start for what was going to be the last race between the three of us that afternoon.

My crew chief, Jakester shagged some black duct tape from Cowboy to fix the rear wheel arch with some help from Mule, who built Yellow Jacket 14 years ago. Then Jakester put on a new set tires I’d bought that morning from another racer who wasn’t going to make it out on the track this weekend. We were ready, and I realized, again, how indispensable my 16 -year-old crew chief has become.

While they worked, I wandered away from the emotion surrounding the car. I’m not a fan of drama, and there was too much of it. Irish walked me about the paddock as I processed that morning’s contact and worked myself back into racer mode, refocused on the joy of driving.

Canuck got the lead at the start. Cowboy in his beautiful ruby red ’67 Corvette, blasted ahead of both me and Fireball. He badgered Canuck for a lap or two. One thing about Cowboy: if he doesn’t want to let you by, you won’t get by. He can make his car 12 feet wide without seeming to do anything. But he’s also willing to let others race their race, and doesn’t hold anyone up just for his own finishing position. Eventually Fireball slipped past him, and then I did too.

I don’t know where I squeezed by Fireball, though wish I did. It may have been the wide right hander Turn Seven, it may have been Turn Ten. He went into the dirt on Turn Nine, on the outside of the back “straight” that is really one long, really soft sweeper. Maybe that’s where. All I have in my mind are snapshots.

But somewhere in there, Fireball was called in off the track for flames coming out his header. “As if they’d never seen a backfire,” someone said later. He went back to the paddock, but he was behind when that happened, and my eyes were already focused on Canuck, who was in front, where I wanted to be.

I couldn’t out-pull him on the straights. There were places we weren’t separated by more than a foot. Our cars were evenly matched. But Portland is my home track and maybe I have a few more laps there than he does. It’s also really tough driving while having to look in your mirrors and keeping another driver behind you. Eventually, I passed him going into Turn Ten, I think, but that isn’t where the race was won, or lost as the case may be.

We were coming down the main straight, just as hot as we had all weekend, each of us knowing there was only a lap or two left in the race. As we headed to Turn One of the chicane, I was on the left, he was on the inside where I’d been when Fireball and I got together.

I’d been watching Canuck from behind all weekend, and knew where he braked. I decided to apply my brakes later. In racer talk, I decided to “take him deep,” as I’d tried with Fireball before our contact that morning. But this time, I was on the outside where the driving line was softer and traction more secure.

At the last possible second I squeezed the brake pedal with increasing firmness, which the new pads seemed to especially like. Behind me and with a view of my brake lights, Canuck held off even longer hitting his brakes. As he whistled past me, I said out loud, “I don’t think so.”

He went by, but then had to hit his brakes and turn into Turn One at the same time. His wonderful car “Alice” decided to obey the laws of physics rather than Canuck’s late request. They spun 360 degrees into the Chicane.

I drove the rest of the race one eye on my mirror until they threw the checkered flag.

People came over to the paddock and thanked us for the show. Cowboy walked up, still in his driver’s suit, and said, “THAT was a race! I knew you could get by him!” It meant a lot. After all, Cowboy got me into this craziness more than 20 years ago. I’ve learned a lot from him, on and off the track, in the years since.

We push ourselves and our machines and each other to the limit, but we don’t set those limits as we scramble for tenths or even hundredths of a second, a chance to beat the other guy. Time itself sets limits, as does a track that dictates what we can and cannot do where. I give this one to the track in Portland.

Twenty years of racing. That’s a long time. I should probably retire while I’m still able to drive near the front. But then Cowboy said before I drove back home, “You got your hotel room in Sonoma yet? It’s only a few weeks away. And, you’re going to Indy next June. Don’t even think about not going.”

As if it’s never enough.

Five, four, three-two-one, ready or not, here (A)I come

There’s been no announcement, no baby shower nor celebration, but the signs are all around us.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has arrived. Should AI be named “IT,” standing for “Intelligent Technology?” Pronounce it “Eye Tee” so IT feels more friendly.

But whatever we name IT, whether we call it “AI” or “machine learning” or a “cognitive system” or “deep neural network,” or a “distributed entity.” IT has awakened.

More accurately, multiple ITs are stirring. Google has DeepMind/AlphaGo, IBM has “Watson.” Amazon is fully invested, and infamously secretive Apple is no doubt trying to catch up. AT&T and Verizon would be working on AI as, as well. Facebook almost certainly has one in the works.

That’s just in this country. The world’s fastest computer now resides in China, and we know Russia and Israel would not be content being left out of the greatest revolution in the history of human kind.

Why? Because IT is better at understanding the world than humans, even vast collections of humans in the form of corporations or governments pooling limited organic brain power.

The human brain developed as a pattern-discovery-creation organ that gave us great evolutionary advantage. But organics are slow, have to learn over and over again, and wear out (die), often taking their knowledge with them. Advantage has now gone to “non-organic entities” with unimaginable access to information at both granular and grand scales.

Although there may not be collusion, companies in the U.S. that have developed IT are being very, very careful not to scare humankind. They are “boiling the frog” and conditioning our perceptions before letting us know they have created a new “intelligent life form” that is not really “alive,” even though we don’t actually know what “being alive” means, any more than we know what “intelligence” is.

But the signs are there, if we look. IBM has ads that tout a new world is coming, that the ability of cognitive systems is essentially unlimited.

IBM openly claims that cognitive systems will “extend and magnify human expertise …will learn and interact to provide expert assistance to scientists, engineers, lawyers, and other professionals in a fraction of the time it now takes… Far from replacing our thinking, cognitive systems will extend our cognition and free us to think more creatively. In so doing, they will speed innovations and ultimately help build a Smarter Planet.”

That “Far from replacing our thinking…” is whitewash, intended to put us at ease. It’s also open to interpretation if not outright dispute.

The magazine Wired had an excellent article last May by Cade Metz about how Google’s AlphaGo defeated Lee Sedol, the world’s greatest human player of Go, possibly the world’s most complex game. There were many interesting story lines, but here are two that are especially interesting: On move 37, AlphaGo made a move that no human player would have made.

Move 37 showed that AlphaGo wasn’t just regurgitating years of programming or cranking through a brute-force predictive algorithm. It was the moment AlphaGo proved it understands, or at least appears to mimic understanding in a way that is indistinguishable from the real thing,” wrote Metz.

The move by the IT was later described as “beautiful.”

But the Go tournament in Korea was not just another milestone. According to the Wired article, “Eric Schmidt—chair and former CEO—flies in before game one. Jeff Dean, the company’s most famous engineer, is there for the first game. Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google)flies in for games three and four, and follows along on his own wooden board.”

These internationally known, fabulously wealthy Titans did not fly to Korea to watch a board game as if they were going to the super bowl. They were there for an event that equates to the birth, perhaps the adoption, of a child.

Google did not invent AlphaGo, they acquired it, like they have so many other small companies that are building the future, including robot-maker Boston Dynamics. Go ahead, click the link, then imagine, for just moment, a pack of those “dogs” chasing you. With intelligence greater than yours, and able to anticipate every zig and zag you make.

Or imagine it bringing you a beer … before you knew you wanted one, or doing the dishes. That’s what Google wants you to imagine, even as we learn that a robot delivered a bomb last weekend that killed a murderer in Dallas.

We won’t go into where an AI actually exists, or into the history of neural nets or fuzzy logic that made it possible. It doesn’t have to “live” anywhere. Douglas Hofstader proved in 1979 in his book “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” that intelligence doesn’t have to be “localized,” that synapses and neurons can be spread across vast distance and still be part of an intelligence.

More and more often, tools we use exist “in the cloud.” This may protect us from data loss or give us access wherever we are, but also provides incredible amounts of information to software that harbors and analyzes our input.

Siri and Google’s language algorithms and translators learn how we talk, then talk back to us with increasing accuracy. There are so many apps now collecting data in ways mostly undisclosed, such as “flashlights” that claim access to the email and cameras on our phones.

Later, in “I am a Strange Loop,” Hofstader showed how fairly simple self-referencing systems can lead to fairly complicated outcomes, including a sense of “self.”

Suffice it to say, the cell phone in your pocket or purse could easily be a part of a “distributed entity.” Don’t bother turning it off. Like a hologram, the information it contains can be replicated elsewhere, if at a coarser resolution.

Nor will we debate that “humans” have a special place in the universe, by definition “above” the machines we create. “Human Exceptionalism” is a religious argument, or a tautology, and I’ll leave this to those who enjoy that debate.

The key came when we began to “teach” machines instead of program them. And we’ve done a pretty good job, from self driving cars to intelligent fighter jets that are now better than pilots. Okay, that last was on a simulator. But at some level, each of us dwells in a “simulation.” The fact that we agree on certain elements, or perceive the same wavelengths, does not give humankind an inherent superiority.

Evolution worked with what She had. Now, AI simply has more to work with.

Which brings up a few points. Certain “motivators” have been quite effective over the millennia in bringing humans to this stage of development. Fear, for example, or lust. It’s important to think about what we mean as we think about their role in human history.

On an individual level, are they more than the internal perception of motivations written into our genetic wiring? Would there be an advantage to similar motivators, or “pattern reenforcement” in the circuits of a cognitive system?

Do we give our AIs a “fight or flight” circuit, or a “lust” button triggered by visual or sensory inputs? Will they “evolve” one on their own? The possibilities are endless, for good and evil, quaint terms in their own right.

Like so much in the history of accelerating technology, AI arrived before we were prepared. From the dawn of the Industrial Age, technology preceded laws needed to integrate it with values of human experience. From cotton mills in England to sweatshops in New York to phone factories in China, each brought a revolution.

The one we face now is every bit as profound, if not more so. American workers are not only dislocated by the global economy, but also by robots building cars in Detroit and Tokyo, reducing the value of human labor.

And if robots now replace assembly line workers, soon AI doctors will not need to refresh knowledge of a narrow subject with Continuing Medical Education. An AI has all-time, real-world access to the world’s complete medical data base, and is always the best doctor possible, not just the best one available.

With scanners, blood markers, and the watch on your wrist, AI may or may not even need you to describe your symptoms. In fact, AI may be able to anticipate your health events, even your moods, before you’ve had a chance to experience them, and “set you right” before something has gone “wrong.”

AI in the court room would not be influenced by lawyer antics or eloquence or expensive shoes. Facts are already known, judgement immediately rendered. Right is right, and wrong is wrong, even if based on complexities mere humans might not understand.

None of this was intentional, unless one believes in Intelligent Design or irreducible complexity, either interpreted far differently from original intent. In the same way cars and television, then the Internet and the cell phone, changed our families and interpersonal connections, technology appears then modifies the environment by fulfilling human desires which in turn are modified by the technology.

This reciprocal modification, where a single organism modifies an environment that then reenforces changes in organisms, is one of evolution’s shortcuts, by the way.

If AI knows where each of us is at every moment, knows where and how we spend each dollar, maps our network of friends over time and monitors every word used to communicate with them, all of which are right now tracked and sifted digitally, then what is our ideal of freedom?

Outlaws, like those who defied the King and built the United Staes, disappear “for the common good.”

The advance of IT or AI ultimately forces us to ask truly existential questions: What is the value of a human being? What is my value? We don’t have easy answers, or the one’s we do have are too easy.

If AI combined with robotics can replace most human endeavor, what do we do with our days? Do we lose ourselves in a VR world of holographic absorption, endless hours of screen time? Do we Tai Chi in parklands created where highways used to be when humans commuted to work? When humans used to work?

What will unite us? In the past, tribes had a common enemy, or a common God, a set of values and beliefs that defined the tribe and were shared by members. AI / IT challenges us to redefine what these may be.

Or perhaps, we’ll allow ourselves, or be forced, to assimilate into the next step in the evolution of intelligence, and become Borg.

It would be good to have the discussion before that happens, if it’s not already too late.

SOVREN racers kicking it at Indy

It’s an exciting weekend at Indianapolis for racers from the Pacific Northwest.

Dave Kuniki of Surry, BC is okay after hitting the wall on Saturday,  June 18 at the SVRA Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational.

“I lifted and touched the brakes. The car jumped to the right and slapped the (retaining wall). It was a hard hit. That’s when I realized I had no steering. The car came down into the grass and I tried to ease on the brakes, but the car jumped to the left and started to spin.”

The car then hit something with the left front. The cause of the mishap was a mechanical failure. A nut that holds steering mechanisms together came off. Kuniki had no way to control the car.

“It’s an uneasy feeling. I don’t recommend it,” he said.“But I never felt my life was threatened. I have a container seat, and a strong cage. But they took me to the medical center to get checked out, took my blood pressure, asked me questions.”

Although the damage looked slight, once Kuniki and mechanic Freddie Jonsson got under the car, they found the impact had bent the a shaft holding the lower “A” arm that supports the right front wheel, and the left side tie rod was bent. That was it for the weekend.

“You just don’t know if something is cracked,” he said.

Tom Cantrell had an excellent race on Saturday in his 1998 Ford Penske Taurus stock car, taking first place in the SC3 race group.

“We got way ahead of those guys. I hope I keep my cool and make it happen again,” he said, looking forward to Sunday’s final.

Driving his Can-Am car, Cantrell said he was still getting used to the machine. “It’s really, really fast,” he said. “We’re hitting a buck eighty (180 mph) or more.”

Then he has to slow down and turn 90 degrees left on the Indy track.

Matt Parent came close to giving the Northwest a one-two finish in that group on Saturday, coming in third in his Skoal Bandit stock car.

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Matt Parent’s Skoal Bandit, prepared by Horizon Racing

“We’ve had a really good weekend, so far. We finished third overall (on Saturday) with Cantrell in first. They waved us into victory lane, put us on the podium, had us drink milk (an Indy tradition).

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Matt Parent on the podium. Photo provided.

“We’re also doing well in the Corvette in B production. We were third in that group, and Tony and I (Tony Darmey of Horizon Racing and Performance who prepares race cars for Parent and several others in Seattle) ran in the enduro,” said Parent.

Another SOVREN car from the Pacific Northwest, a 1964 Studebaker owned by Jeff and Jerry Taylor, won “Best of Show” at the event, possibly the most significant in the nation.

“They came by and asked us to bring our car down to the area where they were having the concert. There were two other cars there. They gave an award to the best open wheel car, and one to the best prewar car. Then they gave us the award for “Best of Show,” said Jeff Taylor, of Sisters Oregon.

“ ‘Best of show?’ I wanted to ask if those guys had been drinking. I think they’re nuts, with all those incredible cars there,” said Taylor.

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The Rex Easley Studebaker race car. File photo by AeroSportPhotography

The Studebaker has always drawn admirers, and the well-constructed history of it’s first owner, Rex Easley, has always brought a smile. Kuniki, with one of the many beautifully prepared cars at the event, was pitted next to the Taylors all weekend.

“There must have been 300 or 400 people who came by. They pretty much didn’t see my car, they were there looking at the Studebaker,” Kuniki said.

Curt Kallberg, another racer from Oregon, had a good race. On Saturday, he started in 16th.

“Most of these guys have never seen a ‘Kallberg start.’ I jumped about five of them by going up near the wall on the start into the first corner. I got to ninth, but gave two spots back, ended up 11th,” he said.

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Curt Kallberg, #68, next to Corvette driven by legend Al Unseer Jr.
Car prepared by Jon Bibler. Photo provided by Patti Cordoni

But always for Kallberg, it’s the people and the fun that matter as much as the racing. “This is the maybe the best event we’ve ever been to,” he said, reflecting on the history of Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the quality of the promotion and the cars.

Everything was top drawer, with music provided by Three Dog Night. It was rumored that after hearing Kallberg sing along, which most people in the audience were able to do, he might be asked to tour with the band.

“Nah, that’s not going to happen,” Kalberg said. “I was singing loud, but when they heard me, they left the stage. I was devastated. But I also know ‘Achy Breaky Heart,’ and I’m going to sing that for Billy Ray Cyrus.”

PNW racers doing well at Indy

Racers from the Pacific Northwest are doing well at the 2016 Brickyard Vintage Racing Invitational, weathering a storm that threatened to blow them away when they arrived.

As of early Friday, David Kuniki, driving an A-Production Corvette with a 427 cubic inch motor, was running first or second in the event against cars owned by professional race shops.

Curt Kallberg, also driving a 427 Vette, is in the top middle of the pack, according to Kuniki. Jeff Taylor of Sisters Oregon was racing his 1964 Studebaker in A Sedan. Taylor could not be reached. Norm Daniels is driving a Camaro Trans-Am car.

Matt Parent was first in his class in his Cup Car (a stock car), and was doing quite well driving his small block Corvette in B-Production with a 350 cubic inch motor, according to engine builder Craig Blood of Blood Enterprises.

“He’s 4th in B Production and 13th overall,” Blood said.

Jeff Mincheff and Jackie Mincheff, experienced drivers from the Portland area but new to Corvettes, are doing well, according to their mechanic Jon Bibler, who also wrenches for Kallberg and Erik Dolson.

“Jackie is doing pretty good. Jeff’s car ( a recent acquisition) is a neat piece, everything on it is as it was raced in 1972. But there’s some work to do (to make it competitive),” Bibler said.

Kuniki said the track reminded him of Portland International Raceway.

“There are two fast chutes. After one, there is a hard right and left, like the chicane in Portland. The back section is technical, you can overdrive it and lose time.  Curt (Kallberg) and I both think it’s similar to Portland.”

Kuniki qualified 1st on Thursday, “on new tires with a 1:38:8. This morning I qualified second with a 1:39:3. I had the older tires on, maybe I was too nervous. This afternoon I’ll have fresh rubber and put it on ‘kill.’ ”

He added, “Along the straight you are three feet off the wall, and the sound from our big blocks is pretty cool.”

Kuniki is dueling with an “incredibly prepared” Corvette driven by Edward Sevadjian, president of  Duntov Motor Company, and Peter Klutt, owner of Legendary Motorcar Company. 

“They made Klutt put a small block in his car to run A production (small blocks normally run B-production), and he still qualified behind me with a small block on old tires,” Kuniki said. “Curt Kallberg is in the upper middle of the pack, even though he’s running with the wrong gears and the wrong carb setting.”

When the racers set up on Wednesday, a thunderstorm blew through the area that threatened to take them out. Bibler said it was like a tornado almost touched down. Kuniki said that he and mechanic Freddie Jonsson had all they could do to save the tents and awning.

“It came on in about a minute. Freddie and I were both holding on to the awning on the trailer and it was picking us up like Mary Poppins. We managed to save the awning but then had to grab the tent and hold on to it for about an hour.  Nobody could help anybody else, everyone had their own problems.”

Tom Cantrell said the weather was fierce.

“The first day the weather was bad, storms came though and were just ripping us. We got about 5 inches of rain in two hours, canopies were blowing away.”

Since then, though, weather has been good, if a little humid.

“We’re having fun,” Cantrell said. “So far the track has been good. We’re getting to know the Can-Am car, making little changes here and there, but it’s doing really well. The cup car is just excellent. We cut four and a half seconds off the last time we were here. We let Brent Glassetner (a builder of Nascar race cars in North Carolina ) have it in the off season, that was a good decision.

“Norm Daniels is doing good, Kallberg seems pretty problem free. All the guys from the Pacific Northwest are doing well,” said Cantrell.

Spokane II

Spokane is a seven-hour pull from Middleofnowhere, Oregon. My old Ford felt a lot better hauling the trailer after a $3,600 tune up, but distance is time and time is money, as they say.

Sometimes it feels like I’m running out of both.

Which is the main reason I’m not going to Indianapolis with the rest of the Big Bore Bad Boys. Cowboy made it as easy as he could, saying he had an extra room, and that Canuck could probably get  my car there for hundreds instead of thousands of dollars. Cowboy said he could even get me registered, late as it was, and if anybody could do that, it would be Cowboy.

“C’mon. You need to go. There will never be another chance like this,” he said.

He’s right. A chance to race the road course at Indy against some of the best drivers in the world won’t come around again. But then, there’s that time and money thing, and a commitment I’d made to Irish to be someplace else that weekend.

So instead, I headed out across some pretty desolate country to Spokane. I was supposed to pick up my crew chief Jakester at the airport at about 11 p.m. I could have driven over and picked  him up in Portland, but that would have added four hours to the trip.

He’s also 15 and had something to do for school. I try to make sure racing doesn’t interfere with school.

Merlin pulled in to the track at Spokane to help Kiwi set up his operation of four or five cars for clients. Kiwi hadn’t arrived so we were on our way to get dinner when I got a call from the Armadillo, who sells parts and fuel.

His truck  blew a front tire and it took out a bundle of wires. The owner of a tire shop had gotten him off Interstate 90 and replaced the tire, but the shredded wire harness left him stranded.

Armadillo was about 130 miles west, back the way we’d all driven earlier in the day. It wasn’t really our problem, though Armadillo had fuel I needed, and some for Kiwi. Merlin likes a lot of octane for his engines, and you can’t get that many places. Just as important, Armadillo was stranded. Merlin had the knowledge maybe to fix it.

“You know we’re going, right?” Merlin said to me, before we ordered our meal. I was already on the phone to Jakester’s mom, getting it cleared for Merlin’s wife to pick up Jakester at the airport.

I didn’t have much to offer besides a couple of tools and some conversation, but after a quick dinner and a long drive, Merlin rewove the color-coded wire harness. Some of it Viking had already done when he drove by and saw Armadillo stranded. We wrapped it up sometime after midnight, and followed Armadillo to the track in case something came loose. It was about 3 a.m when we finally said good night.

After the practice on Friday, race cars were allowed to caravan into downtown Spokane, a surprisingly lovely little city. We put on our show, had a few meat balls for dinner, and headed back to the paddock for the racing the next day.

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photo by Jake Bobst

The track at Spokane is a little hard on the cars. On the back stretch, there’s a series of rolling ups and downs that slower cars feel as small hills. It’s a bit different for us: there’s a picture of Ceegar’s Mustang from two years ago with his tires in the air. When I come down, there’s a shower of sparks when my headers grind against the pavement.

Screen shot 2016-06-15 at 11.13.03 AM
photo by … unknown

Ceegar wasn’t racing the Mustang this weekend. He was really there to test and tune his new project, a very rare and beautiful Ford Can-Am car with a big, 429 cubic inch motor shoe-horned into the smallest imaginable package, weighing about 1,000 pounds less than my Corvette but packing far more punch.

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photo by AeroSportPhotography

It was from the era when “anything goes” lured manufacturers to create some mind-bending machines.

Ceegar owns the original, but for five years debated what to do with it. He was reluctant to risk a piece of precious Ford history in a race, so the one brought to Spokane was hand-built from scratch by Billy Rhine, using the original as a “pattern” and parts either recently found, newly made or some Ceegar had for years. Rhine was at Spokane to help Ceegar sort it out.

I won my first two races of the weekend, having to work damn hard to stay in front of a Porsche that just ate me up in two hair-pin corners. I was slowing too early, and too much, for the tight corners, tip-toeing around in stead of driving.

In the next race I spun trying to fend off Smallblock, one of Kiwi’s clients, driving his Skoal Bandit Nascar ride. Smallblock has become a really good driver with a lot of seat time and Kiwi’s support.

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photo by AeroSportPhotography

Tight to the corner so he couldn’t dive inside of me, I was carrying too much speed for that sharp a turn. I felt my old tires give it away, then with my nose in the dirt I got to watch cars go by. I hate doing stupid things.

But I made it back up to fourth, so would start right behind the front row, and thought I could take them on the start if I paid attention.

“Drive your own race,” Jakester said after he yanked my harness tight.

I couldn’t believe it. I’ve been racing more years than he’s been alive, and here he was, giving me the exact same advice I’d be giving him if he was sitting in the driver’s seat. I laughed out loud inside my helmet, but he couldn’t hear that.

As I came to each turn, I shouted it out loud, “Drive your own race!” braked late, took my line and pushed my foot to the floor on exit. I was putting them away, and reeled in the Nascar.

Then, two laps before the checkered flag, my Corvette just stopped dead.  It “felt” electrical, maybe as simple as a loose wire that fell off in Spokane’s bumps, or maybe I fried the coil.

That was it for me. It was Sunday, it had been a long weekend, with a long drive in front of me back home. I rebooked Jakester’s flight for early afternoon instead of the evening.

“Hey, what’s with you flying in for the race, and flying home, while I drive seven hours each way?” I asked as I drove him to the airport. He laughed.

“Next year,” he said, when he would be 16 and actually  had a driver’s license.

I can’t go to Indy with the rest of the guys. That’s the way it is. There are other commitments, then a pressure tank and water heater to replace on board Foxy. The parts aren’t too expensive, and I’ll do the work myself. Time and money are a little short, but I’ll get to learn something. There’s also a book draft to get to an editor in L.A. who has probably forgotten I exist, it’s been so long since we talked.

“Drive your own race,” Jakester said. Sheesh. Where’s he get that stuff? But sometimes, even when the tires are worn and there’s a spin, or something breaks and we don’t finish, driving your own race is pretty damn good even when it seems to be never enough.

A Fast New Season

The Jaguar went sideways just after the hump of Turn 1, hit the bank, went airborne, came down on its nose, flipped end for end, then rolled. That’s what a driver saw from another Jaguar close behind.

In just a few seconds, a newly-built race car, driven by a novice in his first race, became a pile of barely usable parts wrapped in mangled aluminum, its driver sent to the hospital.

Bad stuff happens at over 150 mph, and some of us are hitting the mid-160s.

Canuck has seen worse. Hell, Canuck has been through a few off-roads himself in Seattle. But a few years ago “Alice,” Canuck’s new Corvette, suffered the same fate as the Jaguar, and at the very same place on the track. Its then-owner was the fastest and probably the best driver in our little group, like Canuck is now. He was hospitalized and hasn’t raced since.

The driver of the Jaguar, rumored to be unconscious when workers got to him, just suffered a couple of broken ribs according to word passed around in the pits.

Canuck was spooked. He and I agreed that having a qualifying session as the first session on the track is a really bad idea.That’s when the former owner of Alice got hurt, too. Qualifying is even worse after a winter layoff; Drivers are out of shape, cars may not have everything tightened down after working on them over the winter. Jumping in and trying to qualify near the front is a bad way to start a new season.

But nobody asked Canuck or me what we thought of the schedule, so we run when they tell us to run. Irish and I had been driving all over the Pacific Northwest to wrap up other commitments: close to nine hours on Thursday, then left Portland late on Friday and didn’t get in to our hotel until 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning. It was a slog to get everything put together by the time that 9:30 session came around.

I didn’t see the wreck. I’d come in early to find out what was wrong with my motor, which had a bad stutter and no water temperature showing on the gauge.

The wreck shook Canuck up, so he said, and he sat out the first race on Saturday, just to gather himself together. That’s the only reason I won, and if the drag boat motor in Excalibur’s black Stingray hadn’t blown up as he was trying to catch up, I might not have.

A lot of motors blew over the weekend. There were long streaks of oil in several places at different times where one car after punched a piston down throughout the bottom of an oil pan, or a rod out the side of the block.

Hey, the cars we’re racing are 50 years old. Swede did a great job building up Alice for Canuck. Just like Mule did a tremendous job putting Yellow Jacket back together after I blew the rear end last season, and broke trailing arms the year before. But there’s only so much that can be done with 50-year-old technology that was current when family telephones had no screen and sat on a table in the hallway.

Or drivers who grew up waiting a turn to use them. We are getting older, health issues dog us now, eyes and ears and immune systems failing faster than some of us get around the track.

Starting near last, Canuck worked his way up from the back of the pack on Saturday afternoon, and was posting the best lap times. With entries down, they put four-cylinder cars into our group, or us into theirs, which made for challenging racing. Still having trouble with my air-fuel mixture, I was rusty as a shipwreck on the beach. Still, it was a win. Canuck ended up third.

There was a new car, actually one built a few years back but just returned to the paddock. Quicksilver is a mid-year Corvette boasting another 427. Piloted by an experienced driver, formerly of a Mustang, he was damn fast for his first time out in this car.

Sunday belonged to Canuck, though I did give him a challenge in the last race of the day. He was way out in front when a yellow flag came out, then the pace car so they could bunch up the racers as they hauled in another of the four-bangers that blew up.

My engine was finally running well, thanks to Mule, who noticed the rear float bowl on my carburetor was over-full. Merlin came over and adjusted it. Finally, she was running clean.

I was right behind Canuck as we waited for the disabled car to be hauled to safety. As we came to Turn Nine, I saw that the yellow flags weren’t out. It was a race! But Canuck didn’t register that fact until I hit the throttle and flew by him.

He went after me. I wasn’t going to shake him, so I did everything I could to stay right where he would need to be to get by me. Cowboy is the master at making his car 15 feet wide, but I kept it up for the next several laps. Then I lost concentration coming in to Turn Eight on the final lap. Canuck got to the inside, and I decided not to chop him off or send him into the dirt, so it was a drag race to the flag.

I hit the gas too hard. The magic motor Merlin built responded in an instant. I actually needed less to do more, and spun the tires for just a moment too long. Canuck beat me by one-third of a second to the checkered flag.

It was disappointing, but a better race than it would have been if Canuck hadn’t fallen asleep. Irish said it was exciting. Mule thought I’d let him by on purpose, but that isn’t so. I apologized to my crew chief Jakester, but he said, as he usually does, that we did good for the weekend. Smartest 15-year-old I know.

Walking back from the timekeepers tent, with proof in hand that I hadn’t done my best, Irish said something about the friendship and mutual respect she’d seen over the weekend.

“This is my tribe,” I said. “Even though I only see them five or six times a year, I’m more comfortable with these people than with anyone else.”

The first race of the season is a time to shake off the cobwebs, rediscover the limits of what we can do. Or, in the case of the Jaguar, find out what we can’t. Merlin asked if I would consider spending a little time and money for a minor change that might make just a little bit more of what we all want. As if I didn’t have trouble already getting power down without spinning the tires.

Then today I get a call from someone who knew someone who might want to buy my race car, something I’ve been thinking about for a couple of years. Maybe I should accept that I’ve had a pretty good run. Better to go out near the top, rather than stay too long, right?

I asked Irish what she thought. As she saw last weekend with the Jaguar, and other cars  towed in on the hook, this is not a hobby without risks.

“I’ve only just met these people, but I’m not ready not to see them again,” she said, but carefully letting me know that it was my decision. Did I expect anything else?

By the next race, Excalibur will have a new motor, Quicksilver will have even more time under his belt, Alice will be better sorted. Those guys have got some serious juice. Cowboy will be back with everything he can bring, Captain America has a new engine, too. There were photos shown of Ceegar coming through Turn Five with two wheels off the ground. He was missed, but he’ll be back.

“A bit more?” Merlin asked, without using exactly those words. Even though I had too much “more” already, last weekend, for my skill level? Order the parts, Merlin, and I’ll order some new tires, and brake pads, too.

Of course I want more. It’s never enough.